Crematoriums feel the pressure as Covid death toll mounts

A day after Delhi reported its highest single-day Covid-19 death toll of 131, crematoriums in the national capital are struggling to cope with the increased fatalities. In light of the high toll, the Delhi high court, too, had asked the government to indicate steps that it has taken to manage crematoriums and graveyards in the national capital.

According to authorities at crematoriums, families are having to wait longer at Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh facilities to conduct the last rites of their loved ones who succumbed to Covid-19. However, municipal authorities said they have an adequate number of covid-designated crematoriums and graveyards and sufficient facilities to conduct the last rites.

According to the data from the three municipal bodies, there are 19 crematoriums and graveyards where Covid-19 bodies (of confirmed and suspected cases) are being cremated/buried. Of these, eight are run by North Delhi Municipal Corporation (north DMC), six by South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) and five by East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC). Officials said these facilities can cumulatively dispose of nearly 140-150 bodies daily.

Authorities assisting in the last rites of those dying of Covid-19 at Nigambodh Ghat said for the past fortnight, there has been a surge in bodies — every day, about 100 to 110 bodies are being cremated there, of both Covid-19 related deaths and others.

“More than 60% of them had died of Covid-19 (confirmed cases). Due to Covid death toll spike, the rush at Nigambodh Ghat has increased and people are having to wait longer — at least five to six hours,” a functionary at the Nigambodh Ghat said, who wished not to be named, said.

He said the crematorium has all arrangements in place to handle the increased numbers. He said other than three incinerators running on CNG, there are around 104 wood pyres of which 50% are reserved for Covid deaths.

At the Punjabi Bagh crematorium, there are four CNG incinerators and around 30 to 35 wood pyres for Covid related deaths.

Ashok Rawat, municipal health officer (MHO), north corporation, said during the pandemic, every crematorium and graveyard is assigned to certain hospitals and people have to take bodies to the designated cremation ground only. “But, for past one or two months, as Covid-related deaths were fewer, families from other neighbourhoods were also bringing bodies to Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh crematoriums. Ideally, Nigambodh Ghat should accept Covid bodies from seven hospitals in north Delhi, including LN Hospital, GB Pant and Hindu Rao, but, lately, people from east and central Delhi have also been cremating bodies at Nigambodh Ghat,” he said.

“Now that the number of Covid deaths has increased,there is a rush at Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh crematoriums. We will now examine it and ensure that guidelines are being followed,” Rawat said.

As per data from the SDMC, between November 1 and 18, as many as 883 Covid-19 confirmed dead bodies have been cremated while this figure was 720 in October. Between June 1 and October 31 as many as 3,697 Covid-19 confirmed dead bodies were handled by SDMC crematoriums and graveyards. The other two municipalities were yet to compile this data. Anamika Mithilesh, mayor, SDMC, said the number of cremations has increased in November. “We have sufficient space to increase the capacity, if the situation arises. If required, we will further increase the number of wood pyres,” she said.

Burials rise, but no pressure

The New Cemetery for Muslims at Delhi Gate is also under stress and may have no space left for burials soon, a member of the graveyard’s management committee said requesting anonymity.

The graveyard, near Daryaganj, which has been functional since 1924, had been receiving 10-12 bodies of Covid-19 bodies daily since June and then there was a lull. The count again started increasing about 10 days ago. Since April 1, nearly 300 bodies have been buried by following Covid-19 protocol at the graveyard. There is space for 100-150 more burials at the cemetery spread over nearly 50 acres, the committee member said.

A Delhi Waqf Board official said burials following Covid-19 protocol are also being conducted at other graveyards in Mongolpuri, Dwarka, Khadar and Ghazipur.

A functionary at Feroz Shah Kotla burial ground, which is managed by the SDMC, said the number of dead bodies has increased in the past 10 days. “The burials are being conducted without any hassle. We have all arrangements in place and there is no rush as such at the facility at present,” he said, requesting anonymity.

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